A Solo Hike...one woman's hiking adventure in Cape Phrangan
I lingered near the sign warning of the difficult walk to the lagoon, watching enviously as a white woman in sandals, carrying a towel and soap, climbed the path with her male companion. I stood there hesitating, asking myself "Would there be any dangers if I took this journey alone?"
I ended up spending the rest of the day talking myself into it.
The trail started from a boardwalk, surrounded by caves and jungle, and tucked behind bungalows at Cape Phrangan near Krabi in southern Thailand. Across the sturdy planks from the wet hillside where the ascent began, a makeshift sign diagrammed the walk. Once you attain the ridge, it looked easy - except, maybe, for the descent to the lagoon. I wondered why, according to the notice, "only a few make it."
But the challenge aroused my competitive spirit and the next day, standing before the sign in full trekking gear - adventure boots, jeans and a rugged shirt, I was determined to be one of those who succeeded.
The best time to go, it said, was when the tide came in because then the lagoon filled with water. Otherwise, all to be seen was mud.
I guessed that even at high tide, there would be no swimming or bathing due to shallow waters and mud on the bottom. I knew the woman yesterday hadn't found what she hoped for, and I felt a little sorry for her. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I have learned many hiking trips ago, that although reaching the final destination is important, the journey can be of greater value. Just like life's journey, each and every travel experience is a priceless one.
A rope, encrusted with red mud, dangled along the dirt steps leading up the steep, slippery embankment. There was no way to ease into it, no flat path gradually gaining a slope. You'll have to go straight up the steep slope.
I'd never done any climbing, but I figured if that woman in sandals could do it, so could I.
The sign warned of extreme slipperiness when wet. But it hadn't rained for a day, and I heard people above me. I looked at the sky to gauge the weather.
Then again, it is difficult to gauge the weather patterns in the tropics. The sky could be clear one moment, as it was now, and in the next, dump rain like from a barrel. I decided to go anyway.
There had been too many people along this path for snakes and other dangerous creatures to lurk close by.
I turned to the path and to my delight, I saw knots tied in the rope. They brought back fantasies of treasure islands and pirates and tree houses. I grabbed the rope, shoved my foot against the muddy cliff, and pulled myself up.
I lunged for the knot above my handhold, and felt a thrill as the movement propelled me higher. I grinned with pleasure and exhilaration. It was easy and fun and sometimes I let myself swing a little bit.
The path was about eight feet wide, and the height covered a few hundred. At the halfway point, I saw people ahead of me, and a man coming up from below.
Orange/red mud streaked my thin blue shirt and peach shorts, and I knew I should forget about trying to emerge with clean clothes from this.
Well, I was there to have fun. So what if I got dirty? Something clicked inside me, and all my cares slipped away. Climbing easily, I swung on the rope, wanting the journey to go on forever.
I caught my breath at the trail's top, then followed a narrow path to a viewpoint where I found two middle-aged Swedish women and a bearded man wielding an expensive camera. They were stumbling around in the bushes, looking upwards, and chattering about monkeys, which, apparently, I'd just missed.
A few moments later, as we stood together enjoying a breathtaking view of the beach, the women discussed whether they should continue the journey. They wore flimsy tennis shoes, and said they'd slipped a lot. I was glad I had my trusty trekking boots.
I had no desire to turn back because the journey had taken me back to childhood, and I didn't want to snap out of it yet. The man who'd been behind me caught up. To my surprise, he'd climbed barefoot, and he wasn't a native, but a young, smiling German. He said climbing the slippery trail was easier barefoot than in shoes!
As we progressed further on the trail, suddenly, there was a steep, slippery descent onward towards the lagoon. One of the Swedes said, "No, no, no. This is too much." As they turned back, I asked myself, would I have the energy to crawl back up?
Although my boots slipped even more, I traversed this steep slope in minutes. At the bottom, it gave way to a flat area with a large tree that looked like it was a million years old. For a long time, I stared at the tree, alone and in awe of the centuries that had passed before its delicate fronds.
I turned and pressed on. A few steps around a bend, and I found myself in a small, cleared area, surrounded by cliffs with vines hanging from them.
At the rim, thick jungle grew, inching so close to the edges that a foothold would be impossible. I took a deep breath, and listened to the quiet, broken only by the sound of vegetation twitching with life.
Looking at the sturdy vines, a childish urge to grab and swing on one came over me, and I laughed, realizing I'd expected to see Tarzan there too.
Many moments went by as I convinced myself of the reality: It was I, and no one else, standing in that tiny jungle clearing.
Then, the voices of young men coming down the path disturbed my reverie. I sighed, and went onwards.
The next part really was rock climbing, and if it hadn't been for the barefooted German below saying that he could see the lagoon and the two middle-aged Swedish men behind, encouraging me ("Oh! It looks easy"), I would not have pressed on. But down I went, slowly, using the ropes, stretching for tiny footholds in the vertical rock, sliding against the muddy cliffs.
When I neared the bottom, the German greeted me with a chagrined smile.
Immediately, I saw the lagoon, all there was of the murky water, in one glance. Where cliffs gave way to shore, mud took over, and through the water, I saw that same orange/red goo on the bottom.
"It's not much," said the German.
But I wasn't disappointed. The journey had been worth it.
Another interesting surprise was still to come. Under one of the cliff overhangs, I discovered sculptures made from the mud. The natives probably made them because their subject matter consisted of local fare: huts, snakes, mosquitoes, pineapples, heads, crocodiles, crab.
I was to get one more lift from this journey, later, as I dragged my feet along the beach towards my bungalow, a bit tired, and coated from head to toe with orange/red mud. It had begun to rain at the lagoon, and I'd scrambled out as fast as I could. With my pink fanny pack and an army canteen attached to my belt, I must have looked a strange sight.
On the shore, the stringy boatman who'd brought me to the cape was about to shove off with a few travelers. A white woman leaned forward on the gunwales, blinking at me with frank curiosity. The boatman waited as he held on to the undulating boat, smiling with approval, until I got close enough for him to say "lagoon". Of course, one look and he knew where I'd been.
I immediately became embarrassed at my appearance. To explain it to the intrigued woman (obviously, the boatman needed no enlightenment), I threw up my hands and blurted, "What can I say? I made it!" as though my success excused my dirty clothes.
Her lips stretched in a wide grin, and she raised her arms to celebrate my victory. Perhaps she had tried the same trip and failed, and not found anything to make her journey worthwhile. But her delight brought my weary shoulders upright. I grinned back, basking in the flush of the success she knew about, and the many she would never know.